For decades, people have chased their long-held dreams to sparkly New York City. Almost everyone I know here has come from somewhere else in search of something else. But more often than not, what we actually discover when we start to build our lives and careers here is completely different from what we initially sought. Our dreams evolve and boundaries are pushed as we move through personal and professional successes, failures, epiphanies. Apartments change, roommates are replaced, relationships begin and end in waves. Nooklyn agent Kate Quintard is right there with us, having moved to the city straight out of art school to pursue her ambitions in the design world. Now, just over 10 years later, she’s an accomplished real estate agent, entrepreneur/owner of Bushwick salon Local Honey, designer, and Catskills Airbnb host. I had the opportunity to sit down with Kate at her salon and learn more about how she got here and what keeps her going.
Kate grew up in a small town in North Carolina, where everyone in the tight-knit community knew each other’s names and business. It was here that she established a disciplined work ethic and entrepreneurial spirit, working in the restaurants and bars that her father owned. “When I was four years old I was rolling quarters. I always had a job, I always liked working,” she says looking back. “My parents provided a great life for me, but they were not handing me things on a silver platter.”
But from early childhood she knew she wanted more, and set her sights on a life in New York City. When it came time to explore college options, New York-based schools were on the top of her list until her mother -- as mothers are wont to do -- put her foot down. Ultimately, Kate compromised by enrolling at SCAD in Georgia for a major in Fashion Design (after initially going for Interior Design, which in hindsight she regrets not sticking with: “I’m an idiot!”). She knew that this career path could conceivably take her to NYC, so she kept her eyes on the prize and plowed through. The discipline she cultivated since youth stayed with her as she worked to support herself financially through college. “From the time I turned 18, I completely supported myself. I’d sometimes stay up four nights in a row to catch up because I had three jobs on top of going to school full time,” she recounts. “And I never asked my parents for help. I didn’t want to.”
After graduating in August 2007, Kate hopped on a plane to New York and started a fashion internship, which turned into a full time job offer after two weeks. She immediately flew back home, packed her things and came back to stay permanently in NYC. After staying on a friend’s couch in Harlem for a time, she eventually started renting her first apartment in Hell’s Kitchen -- a cramped and overpriced space that she shared with a roommate, but she deems it “classic New York -- I wouldn’t change it for anything.”
In September 2010, Kate and her roommate decided it was time for more space, which brought her to her current neighborhood of eight years: Bushwick. She notes that back then there wasn’t a lot of excitement in the area. “We were on the train going to look at an apartment in Bushwick, and we were like okay, let’s see what’s going on in the neighborhood. And there was nothing -- except karaoke at Tandem,” she laughs. “And we were like, we’re sold, we’re moving to Bushwick!” Naturally, they did karaoke at the Troutman St. bar (which has since closed and been replaced with Mad Tropical) that very night.
Eight years later, Kate has lived in three different apartments in the area but has been in her current place for nearly five years (she jokingly refers to herself as the Queen of Bushwick). Soon after she first made the move, she found a community of young people who had come to the area at around the same time. They were similarly-minded, creative, and in their mid-twenties. “It was a fun time. We would go out, go to karaoke, have barbeques and rooftop parties,” Kate remembers. “When it was up and coming, Bushwick was a really cool place. It had a certain energy about it.”
Nowadays, Kate thinks people move to the area mostly for the price point, though she calls out that it’s steadily rising to meet other coveted areas of Brooklyn. The area continues to have an artistic vibe, and the street art by The Bushwick Collective contributes to its unique aesthetic. The sense of community remains as well: “Being from a small town, I like that Bushwick gives me that feel but I’m still in New York, the city is still accessible. But I have my local bar, my bartender knows my drink order. And I walk down the street and see people I know.”
As Kate settled into her newfound Bushwick life, she found her excitement about the fashion industry start to wane. Despite her strong work ethic, she found that being stuck in a cubicle for hours on end was not for her, and that the roles she found herself in weren’t as creative as she’d anticipated. The industry was struggling as a whole while simultaneously she was reaching a point of exhaustion and frustration. Ultimately, she was laid off, which ended up being a blessing in disguise.
“I was happy about it. I had been thinking about going into real estate, and interior design was still on my mind,” she said. “I watched HGTV every night and had fantasies of quitting my job and becoming a real estate agent.”
So when she said goodbye to her corporate job in 2014, Kate realized a new door had opened. Despite the anxiety of leaving a stable job with benefits for something flexible and commission-based, she decided to take a chance. Over the next month she took advantage of unemployment benefits, studied for the New York real estate license exam, and passed. Upon receiving her license she ended up applying to work for Nooklyn -- which she’d been familiar with through her previous apartment hunt -- and landed the job. She set herself up for success from the get-go. “When I first started at Nooklyn, I found out who the top agent was and I told him ‘I want to follow you, I want to learn from you.’ He ignored me at first, so I said I’d give him 5% of my first five deals if I could follow him around for a week, and if he didn’t I’d just keep calling him every day,” she says. “I just kept bothering him and he finally let me.”
Efforts like this enabled Kate to immerse herself in this new realm and pick up valuable skills. She quickly realized that she had a natural knack for the job. “The biggest key is just showing up and working hard. I made it my full time job and my full time mental focus,” she says. “I think if you have that much focus on something, you’re going to reap the benefit. You have to put the work in.”
Noble Novitzki, Chief People Officer at Nooklyn, confirms this enthusiastically: “I think by accident I saw her during her third apartment showing ever, and 100% of the instinct was already there,” he says. “It’s kind of insane how natural it was.”
Kate says her secret sauce is being a good listener. She listens to clients more than she talks during showings, and by doing so she’s able to pick up on clues that can help her determine the right apartment options for the person.
As she solidified her top ranking among Nooklyn’s agents, Kate started thinking more about creative and entrepreneurial endeavors. Her a-ha moment sprouted from an inconvenience she was experiencing herself. “I’ve been getting my nails done forever, since the beginning of time. Always obsessed with nail art. Being from a creative, art school background, I always liked coming up with ideas and designing. So every week I was getting my nails done in Williamsburg, and I realized that Bushwick really needed a nice nail salon - we didn’t have anything.” From this idea, Local Honey was born.
Local Honey opened its doors in October 2015, offering services from waxing to lash and brow tinting to gel manicures to treatments like the Gold Glowing pedicure. As I started to talk to Kate about the business’ roots and growth, a nearby customer who was getting her nails done turned around and chimed in: “You’ve done a great job with it, I come here all the time!” Kate laughs and thanks her, surprisingly a bit shy.
The salon is located on the corner of Troutman St. and Irving Ave., in a space that previously served as a dance studio. “When I first moved to Bushwick, I remember walking down this street and seeing the space, and I don’t know why, but it would always pop out to me. There was always something that spoke to me. It’s funny that years later it became this.”
Establishing the studio’s central mirror as a focal point of the space, Kate decided to design the salon around it.
“When I go into any sort of design project, I spend time on Pinterest and search online for inspirational photos and I start formulating color schemes,” she describes of her creative process. “It’s kind of hard to explain how my brain works, but I see a vision, start searching for images that match it and compile them so I can wrap my head around what I’m envisioning.”
Kate ended up having to slow down her real estate work in the month leading up to the salon’s opening so she could accomplish most of the renovation on her own. By dedicating many long days and nights to the work, she was able to complete it and open on Halloween 2015. Thinking back on it, she summarized with: “I never want to paint again.”
At the end of this process, Kate created an edgy but feminine vibe with industrial details and mid-century inspired furniture pieces. The salon is quite spacious, though Kate says they’re starting to run out of the room needed to meet the neighborhood’s demand. She hopes to have time to refresh the space soon and plans to open another location of Local Honey as well as a new, more niche salon concept focusing exclusively on waxing and eyebrows. “I’m an idea person,” she notes, explaining that she gets bored easily. Looking into the next year, she’s excited to grow her real estate and salon businesses. She also recently partnered up with fellow Nooklyn agent Erick Hartz to purchase and renovate a property in Windham, New York. The duo opened the property to Airbnb-ers in December, and it’s already booked up every weekend through the end of February.
Overwhelmed by the thought of ever having this many projects on my plate at once, I asked her plain and simple: how on earth do you do it?
“I read something somewhere that said ‘every millionaire has multiple businesses.’ So I’ve kind of always had that in my mind. Real estate is always going to be a constant thing for me, I just love it and I’m good at it. Real estate is always changing, you’re always dealing with different clients, different inventory. So that kind of keeps me going.”
She does call out that a good work ethic is important when working in a field like real estate in NYC. “You don’t have someone calling you every day asking if you did things or reminding you of deadlines. You do everything yourself, you have to make yourself get up each day. If you don’t have that kind of discipline you’re not going to be good at the job. You can get by, but if you want to be a top agent you have to be a self-starter.”
If there’s one thing I learned from chatting with Kate, it’s that going after what you want without fear is nothing but rewarding. She’s managed to “make it” in New York, even though she may not be doing what she used to think she would be: “I moved here with stars in my eyes,” she laughs. “But I never dreamed I’d be owning a salon and running real estate.” <>
Want tips on things to do or places to live in Bushwick? Contact Kate at email@example.com.
All photos taken by Chris Setter.
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